Monday, October 19, 2009

Plan Now for Your Next Elections

Make changes now to avoid endless elections
from our friends at The Apathy Myth: a Blog for America's College Student Leaders

If you are that rare and beautiful student organization that has an efficient and effective elections process, then skip this entry. If you're one of the majority of student organizations that has an elections process that's as much fun as a root canal, this is for you.

If it takes you longer than a 2-hour meeting to elect new officers, you should start working now to implement some changes to improve your process. Some people love a long and drawn-out election meeting, but the rest of us (with a life) think it's dreadful. Dreadful. Dreadful.

First, a note. I hate the concept of "slating" officers. I think it's unfair and suggests that a small group of people know better than the entire group being led. I am a fan, however, of having qualifications for those running for office (grade point averages, first and foremost), and having a process by which people become candidates. But, if four people want to run for Treasurer, I think all four should be given a chance to throw their hats in.

Here are my suggestions. Your advisor might have many more.

1. Make people register their candidacy at least two weeks in advance. Knowing who is running for offices allows the necessary conversations to happen before the election meeting. A little campaigning is a good thing. Maybe even offer some informal gatherings where people can ask the candidates questions. The two-week registration forces people to be thoughtful about running, but it also allows people to approach each candidate to ask questions. Better that they do that informally, person-to-person, than during an 8 hour elections marathon meeting. I think a group organically vetting its candidates is more fair than a slating process which is almost always biased.

2. If people want to run for multiple offices, let them file candidacies for all of those positions. Chances are, someone who puts his name in the hat for multiple offices won't be elected to any of them. You'll need to decide on a process for how you'll handle it if a person wins more than one office. For example, letting the person choose which office she wants then having a run-off for the other office she won. This might require a bylaw change, so think it through.

3. Allow the candidates to submit a written statement (200 words or less) that outlines their qualifications, their motivations for running, and their priorities if elected. Or, do it as a 3-5 point questionnaire that each candidate can fill out with brief answers. Then, distribute these to all members via website or some other means at least a week in advance of the meeting.

4. At the elections meeting, allow each candidate to nominate someone to speak on their behalf for 2 minutes. Or, allow the candidate him/herself to speak for 2 minutes. You do not need to allow time for people to speak "against" candidates. That's counter-productive. All the negatives will have circulated informally in the two weeks proceeding. Your elections should not be a vehicle for ripping people down or discrediting their leadership talents or motives.

5. If you have more than 8 officers, elect them in two batches: your top four officers at the first elections meeting, then the others at the subsequent meeting. This beats one long, draining meeting.

6. Knowing your candidates in advance allows you to do ballots which can be done at the conclusion of your elections meeting. You don't need to do voting for each office independently – that's a giant time suck.

There are probably lots of other ideas people have on how to streamline elections. If you have one, email it to me, and I'll feature it in a future posting.

My main point, however, is that if your elections are a draining, monotonous, exhausting process, then you need to start laying some groundwork NOW to make it better. If you need to make changes to your constitution or bylaws to improve the process, now is the time to do it.

Elections for many organizations are a month or so away, so take the initiative immediately to improve your process.